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News Release

 
   PO 360
   Trenton, NJ 08625-0360

   For Release:
  December 17, 2001

George T. DiFerdinando, Jr., MD, MPH
Acting Commissioner

For Further Information Contact:
Laura Otterbourg or Dennis McGowan
609-984-7160


Draft Epidemiological Study of Dover Township Childhood Cancer Investigation
Released for Public Comment

TRENTON -- The New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) and the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) tonight issued a public comment draft of the final report on their six-year investigation into elevated levels of certain childhood cancers in Dover Township, Ocean County.

The Case-Control Study of Childhood Cancers in Dover Township was unveiled tonight during an interactive town meeting televised live by the local Comcast Cable affiliate (Channel 8) and on Channel 21, the Toms River school system's public access channel. The study will be posted on the DHSS website at www.state.nj.us/health/eoh/hhazweb/dovertwp.htm on December 19, 2002. The public may submit written comments on the assessment through February 19, 2002.

Study findings support the hypotheses that past exposures to drinking water from certain contaminated public water supply wells where treatment systems have now been installed, and to air emissions from a previous manufacturing plant appear to be risk factors for childhood leukemia in township females.

"As a result of measures taken prior to and earlier in our investigation of elevated levels of childhood cancer in Dover Township, all known exposures from previous releases have been addressed," said DHSS Acting Deputy Commissioner James S. Blumenstock. "The public can take comfort in this fact."

The epidemiological study was designed to examine whether there was a relationship between the elevated incidence of certain childhood cancers in the township, which occurred particularly among female children, and identified exposures from environmental releases in the past. Primarily, the DHSS and ATSDR sought to examine past exposures to drinking water from the Parkway and Holly Street well fields and private wells, and past exposures to ambient air emissions from the Ciba-Geigy chemical plant.

During the design of the study, the DHSS and ATSDR gathered advice from experts outside their agencies, and asked for input from all stakeholder groups. The agencies submitted a draft of the epidemiological study report for peer review by two panels of experts.

The study also examined other potential exposures based on community concerns, including the Ciba-Geigy wastewater pipeline, the Dover Township Municipal Landfill and the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station located several miles south of Dover Township.

The study of leukemia and brain and nervous system cancers in children was comprised of two distinct parts: an interview study and a birth records study. In both studies, children with cancer were compared to a matched control group of children without cancer in order to examine differences in exposures to local environmental hazards and other potential risk factors, such as family medical history, parental occupational exposures and dietary factors.

The interview study analyzed answers to questionnaires completed by the parents of 199 township children, including 40 children diagnosed with cancer. The second study examined the birth records of 528 children who were born to township residents, including 48 children later diagnosed with cancer.

The study also utilized state-of-the-art computer models of the township's water distribution system and of airflow patterns developed by ATSDR and the Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute (EOHSI), respectively.

Models of the township's public water supply system were used to determine the percent of water at each study participant's residence that came from each of the system's well fields on a monthly basis from 1962 to 1996. Computer models were also used to estimate exposure to air pollutants that may have spread from the Ciba-Geigy plant over the same 35-year time period, and from the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station from 1970 to 1996.

The draft report concludes, in part, that while no single factor appears to be solely associated with the cancers that were studied, mothers of female children who developed leukemia were more likely than children without the disease to have been exposed during the prenatal stage to water from the Parkway well field during the period when the field was most likely to have been contaminated, from 1982 to 1996. Mothers of female children with leukemia were also more likely to have been exposed to air pollutants emitted from the Ciba-Geigy plant when it was in operation.

At both these locations, the exposure pathways - the methods through which people come in contact with pollutants - have been interrupted. Treatment systems were installed to remove chemicals in water from the affected wells in the Parkway well field and Ciba-Geigy stopped production and related air emissions in the early to mid-1990s.

"While our findings suggest an association between these past exposures and childhood leukemia in females, this does not automatically and necessarily indicate a causal relationship," said DHSS Assistant Commissioner and State Epidemiologist Eddy A. Bresnitz, M.D. "Due to the relatively low number of study subjects and other factors, chance cannot be excluded as a possible explanation for the findings."

The study's principal investigator, Jerald A. Fagliano, Ph.D., of the DHSS, noted that, "as important as what we found through this comprehensive study is what we didn't find. We found no consistent pattern of associations between the other environmental factors and any of the other cancer groupings evaluated."

Fagliano said the study did not find evidence that leukemia in male children, or nervous systems cancers in male or female children, were associated with environmental exposures in the community. Exposure to water from the Holly Street well field during the period that it was most likely to have been contaminated - prior to 1976 - did not appear to be associated with childhood cancer.

The study also found no associations between childhood cancer and air pollutant emissions from the Oyster Creek nuclear plant, Fagliano said.

As a result of their findings, the DHSS and ATSDR are recommending that the department update the childhood cancer incidence health consultation when complete data through 2000 becomes available from the New Jersey State Cancer Registry. This effort will help determine if there are any changes in childhood cancer incidence rates or time trends in the township since the last report in 1997.

The agencies are also recommending that efforts to cease or reduce exposure to hazardous substances now and in the future be continued. These efforts should include periodic groundwater sampling of the plume emanating from the Reich Farm Superfund site to monitor its location and ensure it does not affect current non-affected public supply wells at the Parkway well field. In addition, monitoring of the effectiveness of treatment systems now in place at the Parkway well field should continue to ensure that contaminants are not reintroduced into the community water distribution system.

The DHSS and ATSDR are further recommending that the current private well restriction zones in Dover Township be maintained, and that efforts by the United State Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and Ciba Specialty Chemicals to contain and remove contaminants from the affected aquifer associated with the Ciba-Geigy site should continue, and that remediation of the property to prevent future exposures to hazardous chemicals also continue.

Copies of the epidemiological report and a citizen's guide summarizing its findings will be available for public review at the Ocean County Health Department and Dover Township Public Library for 60 days beginning Wednesday, December 19, 2000. Copies of the reports will also be available by calling the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services at 609-588-3120. The report will also be posted on the department's website at www.state.nj.us/health/eoh/hhazweb/dovertwp.htm tomorrow.

Written comments should be addressed to: New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services, Consumer and Environmental Health Services, P.O. Box 369, Trenton, New Jersey 08625-0369.

 

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Department of Health and Senior Services
P. O. Box 360
Trenton, NJ 08625-0360

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